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The Road to Tomorrow

January 9, 2019

Mention the words future and transportation in the same sentence and everyone starts picturing the iconic flying car from The Jetsons. The Jetsons was set in 2062 and conceived in 1962. From here in 2019 the future looks very different from the one imagined for the cartoon.

In January of 2018, Governor Charlie Baker asked 19 people from around the state to become part of a Commission on the Future of Transportation in the Commonwealth. The group met monthly for a year to explore what transportation in Massachusetts might look like between 2020 and 2040. Their goal was to make recommendations that would advise the Baker-Polito administration. They did not use a crystal ball but instead relied on their own varied expertise, a study of current trends, and a process of scenario planning. They released their final report in December and called it “Choices for Stewardship: Recommendations to Meet the Transportation Future.”

While there are no flying cars mentioned in the report, there are cars that can drive themselves as well as cars that run without gasoline. The report is thoughtful and the hope is that it does not go to live on a dusty shelf, but is referred to often and used as a guide as decisions are made around transportation.

The report advises that: “We can’t know the future,” and that in fact, “many futures are possible for Massachusetts and its transportation system.” What happens in the future will depend on a number of factors including the development of technology, population and employment trends, land use and development patterns, and the Commonwealth’s stance on the reduction of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions.

The report has been much discussed around the Commonwealth since its release, and while it might not be as riveting as the famous rivalry between Spacely Space Sprockets and Cogswell Cogs on The Jetsons, it’s still pretty big.

The question is what will we do next? A recent article from Mobility Lab examined how societal values impact an individual’s transportation choices. They concluded that “individuals are weak, society is strong” and that “shifts in attitude must precede shifts in daily habits, and in infrastructure, to create real change.”

When we look ahead will we take a step in the right direction as a society and remember the words of Robert Frost to take “the road less traveled?” Because what we do next will make all the difference.

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